“Why do you do it? And how do you do it?” A couple weeks ago, Josh and I were having a deep and philosophical discussion about the things we do and why we do them.

He was referring to writing, and the long and arduous process of sitting down to create a novel. He’s been around through all my writing adventures, and was wondering how you tackle something that you know is going to eventually be 200+ pages long.

Setting Goals and Remaining Patient
In my opinion, setting goals is something that everyone should do, whether they be for personal, career, creative, financial or family. Goals were rammed down my throat as a kid, because as a child we have a bunch of people setting goals for us since they assume we aren’t competent enough to set them for ourselves. Well, now you’re a grown-up: you can set your own.

Short term goals are to be completed today, tomorrow, this week. Long term goals are slated for next month, January 2008, when I’m 50… and they should all work in tandem. After all, you can’t complete the first 100 pages of a novel by January 1st, 2008 if you don’t sit down and write today, tomorrow and all this week.

My suggestion? Take all the big goals and chunk them out into smaller and smaller bites until they are something manageable. This allows for: a) Hope, because you see that you only need to do X to reach that Long term goal, or b) Despair, because there is no way you can do X and have it completed by the time you wish. Here’s some ways I’ve found to make the a’s outweigh the b’s.

Be realistic: planning for a goal that is unattainable is a set up for failure. You can’t conquer the world by tomorrow. It might take you a month, or a year.

Be patient: just because you’ve gotten your giant mountain of a goal whittled down to something you can chew on doesn’t mean it isn’t still going to be a challenge.

Be stubborn. If you plan to work on a project all day Saturday, don’t be discouraged or tempted away. If the coffee shop where you hole up and work is crowded, grab the corner, less comfortable seat or find another place to go. If your neighbor has a cookout, skip it — or only stay for an hour before packing up and sticking to your plan.

But on the flipside, be flexible. You can stick to that hard deadline if you are diligent with your short term accomplishments, but life will still happen. The day job will suddenly demand extra hours, a vacation or trip will pop up, maybe you or your child will get sick — just roll with it. Understand that it might require more dedication later, but sacrificing too much will either burn you out before you meet your deadline or make you miss the things that make life worth living.

These are the lessons I’ve picked up in reaching (or failing to reach) my goals. How about you?